Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chapter Forty-Nine

Toes Province, Portugal

I had slept most of the day after the huge breakfast.  A sound in the courtyard woke me and I sat and gazed out the window to the sun peeking through steel gray clouds.  A good stretch, and then I padded down the hallway into the common room.  There, a smiling lady waved at me as she walked from the kitchen to the courtyard with a covered basket.
“Wash up, Lad. Near time for supper.”  Angus slipped past me like a ghost.
I’ll not lie, his stealth made me jump a bit.  But I masked it and returned to my bedroom. In its attendant washroom, after a vigorous splashing of cold water and a facecloth used as a comb, I grinned at my gaunt face in the mirror. 
Damn if I’m not hungry again.
I left my room, went outside and sat down at the table.  Mike sat down to my left.
“Where's home for you, Mike?” I asked.  I broke off a piece of bread and dipped it into the olive oil and spices.
“Some base stateside.” He shrugged with his head down.  He exhaled a large breath.  “I was born in Lebanon, Pennsylvania.  But since I entered the Corps I've lived in nine different states or countries.  And since the divorce …” He tailed off and regarded the garden walls of the courtyard we sat in.  The late afternoon sun warmed us nicely.
“Must be hard, Lad.” Angus poured himself a glass of Port as he walked in.  The wine was what made this region of Portugal famous.
“How about you, Jake?” Mike looked at me.
“Me, I’m Virginia born and bred.”  I leaned my chair back on two legs.  I nodded at Angus to fill my glass when he gave me the look with the bottle.
“I have friends from The Basic School that have too many moving boxes, too.” I waved my hand enough to cut Angus from topping offmy glass.  I needed some food in me before I had too much.
“I lived in 17 different countries, boys.  No life for a dog.”  Angus took a healthy slug of the Port and licked his lips. 
“Where do you spend most of your time now, Angus?” I asked as I sampled some more of my glass.
Damn, this stuff is good!
He shook his massive head and sighed.  “I’ve no idea, Lad.  Most days I wake up and don't even know where I am.  Sometimes I call the front desk and ask.”
“With all this,” Mike looked at me, “where's home for you now, Jake?”  He clasped his hands tightly and leaned forward in his chair. 
One of the ladies from the farm brought us fresh bread and, this time, a crock of butter.  We each took a few slices and portioned off butter onto our plates.  I slathered my bread, took a big bite and took my time thinking on Mike’s question. 
When I finished I looked at him and answered.  “Mike, I'm not sure.  But I know who home is.”
Angus shot me a sly grin.  “Now that is a tale I’d like to hear.  Pray tell.”
Mike grinned too.  “Yeah, don’t stop there.”
“I have my daughter.  I think you both know that.  And there is …” I stopped and did not know what to say.  Rare for me. 
“Go on!” They both echoed.
“Well, there's this lady.  She's a doctor, a surgeon actually, and well …” Angus was imitating a Cheshire cat.  Mike threw bread at me.
“You sly dog!” Mike laughed.
“No, its not that.” They both leered at me. “Its well, I don’t know what it is, but she's really great with …” Mike let out a howl of laughter.
“I bet she is!” he cackled.
Angus, however, spied my look and hushed the table with his hands.  “Let the boy speak now.  It’s serious it would seem.” He sounded somber, though his eyes twinkled as he beckoned me to continue.
“She's wonderful with Moria.  He name is Deborah and she's good, smart, and she's – well she's beautiful in every sense.  She's amazing.” 
Wow, could I really be this school-boy-over-heels?
They kept smiling, but each nodded and backed off the leering.  Angus took another drink, and Mike buttered his bread – both lost in some thought.
Angus looked over his glass.  “Congratulations, Lad.” He tipped his glass my way.  “It sounds like you are a blessed man.”
Mike spoke in a more solemn tone.  “You have no idea how lucky, Jake.  Congrats!”  He looked at me with a sad smile. 
There had to be something to that.
The ladies came out with large platters of Cozido à Portuguesa.  It smelled wonderful – steaming portions of beef, sausages, chickpeas, cabbage and carrots with a garlic clove here and there.  I had no idea how hungry I was until it was served, but when they laid all that in front of me my stomach growled.
The ladies fussed around us for a bit-- the very attractive widow cutting her eyes to Angus.  He noticed it and smiled in response.  He must get that a lot; he's a hell of a man.
We ate in silence beyond a few phases of ‘pass that, please’ amongst ourselves, but we mostly ate - all of us famished
God, this is really good.  
I took seconds, and then a bit more after that.
Tea lights twinkled as twilight fell.  The air chilled as we pushed our plates back and finished our glasses.  We continued to sit in silence, each contemplating something, enjoying the moment.  It was nice to relax, well fed, with good people.
But I missed home. 
Mike spoke first.  “I envy you, Jake.”
Angus spoke.  “Amen, brother.  I had that once, and not a day goes by when I don't long for what I’ve lost.”  His sentiment surprised me.
Angus lapsed back into silence and filled his glass again.
Mike placed his napkin on the table, pushed his chair back and stood up.  He looked right at me.  “If it's real, and only you know, never let her go.  Never.”  He nodded at Angus, then back at me.  “Goodnight, gentlemen.  I’m whipped, and we have a long day tomorrow.”
Angus stood, too.  The widow peered out behind the garden gate. 
“Good night, Lad.”
I poured a half glass for myself.
“And Lad.  Rest well.  It will be a very long day on the morrow.”
I nodded as he left through the gate.  I sat beneath the stars and finished the Port and thought about Deb.

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